When it comes to horror movies, let's face it: While completely terrifying, they do make for fascinating subjects. The "this could happen to me" element makes them all the more horrifying, especially when they revolve around serial killers. Some of our movie picks are based on the most notorious serial killers in history, while others take a fictional approach. The one thing all these movies have in common: grotesque, disturbed, unhinged, and wildly violent protagonists.
These are our picks for the best movies about serial killers.
Summer Of Sam (1999)
The Summer of Sam is about the infamous Son of Sam. If you're not a serial killer trivia nut, he's the brutal murderer who wreaked havoc on New York City in the summer of 1977 (his real name is David Berkowitz). The movie is about a fictional group of misfits trying to figure out who the murderer is while unknowingly becoming his closest friends.
This part period piece, part thriller is based on the unsolved crimes of the self-proclaimed Zodiac Killer. He murdered people (mostly couples, but also a few others) in the Bay Area during the 1960s and '70s. Not only is this a horrifying tale because he killed so frequently and consistently, but also because he'd taunt the police and The San Francisco Chronicle with blood-stained letters—and because it remains unsolved to this day. The movie is gripping, starring Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Aileen Wuornos, the notorious female serial killer, has been portrayed in countless movies, books, and TV shows. This one is easily our favorite. Charlize Theron plays Wuornos, the notorious woman known for killing seven different men before she was caught. This movie focuses on her relationship with her then-girlfriend as well as her escapades.
To see another portrayal of Aileen Wuornos, stream American Horror Story: Hotel on Hulu.
With mannequins, twisted fantasies, and lots of bloodshed, this is one dark, dark movie. Elijah Wood stars as a deranged serial-killing mannequin shop owner who finally starts giving into his deadly desires. To see what, exactly, that means, you'll have to watch for yourselves. But be warned, Maniac is pretty gory and not for the faint of heart.
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The Vanishing (1988)
If you like thrillers and art house films, opt for this Dutch movie, Spoorloos (The Vanishing in English). Released in 1988, it has a subtly creepy, grainy vibe, plus there's a lot of sartorial inspiration. It opens with the soon-to-be-missing protagonist sharing her recurring dream, and the rest is about her boyfriend, who obsessively searches for her throughout the years. It's a slow burn mystery, but the twists will definitely give you a good scare.
American Psycho (2000)
A serial-killing yuppie with a dry sense of humor is definitely not a winning combo in real life, but thoroughly entertaining in movie-form. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) will make you laugh, cry, scream, and analyze consumer culture—and there are several fun '80s fashion moments from Chloë Sevigny throughout.
Looking for a new thing to terrorize you and keep you up at night? Look no further than this clever but absolutely sickening story about a serial killer who targets victims who represent the seven deadly sins. The star-studded cast and compelling plot will keep your eyes glued to the screen, even during the stomach-churning scenes.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
What happens when an unhinged serial killer is nomadic, has an insatiable appetite for murder, and an almost undetectable pattern of victim selection? Mayhem, as is the case in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which brings you inside the mind of a very cunning killer portrayed by Michael Rooker.
This Alfred Hitchcock psychological thriller is an American classic. It's famous for that shower scene where a woman is stabbed with a butcher knife—you know the one, even if you haven't seen it. It's one of those classics you should definitely watch if you love film, whether movies about serial killers are your thing or not. It's set in the seedy, secluded Bates Motel.
The Bad Seed (1956)
Rhoda Penmark is one of those bad seeds whose manipulative brilliance helps her literally get away with murder. But can a mother's fear of her own child triumph over maternal love? William March's chilling classic is so much more than just a horror story. It's a blend of everything you love about Southern Gothics that paints a telling portrait of midcentury America.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Looking for more of a thriller than a full-on gorefest? The Silence of the Lambs will do the trick. This movie is about an FBI agent and psychology student, Clarice Starling, and her relationship with two serial killers. But with that in mind, it's not for the faint of heart. There are several iconic scenes throughout the movie you'll remember forever (for better or for worse).
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Natural Born Killers, or NBK, as it's known to its cult following, stars Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, and Robert Downey Jr., and is based on Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, one of America's most notorious spree killing couples. Though it'll undoubtedly creep you out, it's also packed with satire and cautionary wisdom, representing the consequences of glorifying violence and evil in mass media.